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Dead Ringer: Chapter Nineteen
Here we go. Chapter Nineteen. (Need a refresher? Reread Chapter Eighteen here.)
I stood in the hotel hallway with my mouth open. Mark offered something that looked like a half-wave.
Weston reached out a hand toward me. “Please, Ms. Blair, come in. We’ll explain everything.” I ignored him, staring jagged, rusty daggers at Mark. His face was unreadable, but it seemed he’d gotten over the shock of seeing me.
“Come in, Blainey,” he said. I could feel my cheeks growing hotter by the second. I put out one hand to steady myself against the door jamb, fury and confusion rooting me to the spot.
“Please,” Weston said again, and then his hand was on my shoulder, steadying me as he guided me inside, a much lighter touch than just days ago, when he’d steered me out of Rachel’s room and away from what she was about to tell me.
Behind us, the door closed with a thump. The room was the standard, nondescript two-queen-beds-green-carpet-one-window hotel room where mostly businessmen came from out of town to attend heartstoppingly dull meetings and then barhop afterwards in the hopes of picking up a stranger for meaningless sex. I always have to take a deep breath and shake off the feeling that a black light would set the whole room aglow with leftover bodily fluids.
Weston removed his hand. Still stunned, I sort of skated over to stand in front of Mark. It might have been my imagination, but it seemed he leaned away from me ever so slightly. He pointed to a large chair by the window. “Have a seat?”
“No,” I said.
“Blainey” he said.
“Fuck you,” I said.
In that moment a slight smile seemed to tug at one corner of his mouth, and I hauled off and slugged his arm hard. “Don’t you dare,” I said.
His hand went to his arm, and he shot Weston a look. “Don’t what?”
“Don’t you pat me on the head and tell me to settle down.”
“I wasn’t going to,” he said.
“You were. I could see it.”
“Look, we owe you an explanation, and it sure looks like you want one. So could you just listen for a minute?”
I had half a mind to kick him. I was feeling childish and mad and would have liked to stomp around the room and jump on the beds and throw pillows if Weston hadn’t been there. “This better be good,” I said and crossed my arms to keep from slugging him again.
Mark began, “After Rachel died, the attending physician seemed in a real hurry to fill out the medical certificate of cause of death with ‘heart failure.’ Weston…well, I think I’ll let him tell you. After all, it’s your case now.”
I snorted and made a face at Mark. “What are you talking about?”
“Weston’s your client,” Mark said. “He specifically requested you.”
I’m not going to describe all the times I turned and goggled at each of them with a befuddled “What?” but it was more than you would think. I was having trouble processing the information, is all I’m saying.
“But, why?” I asked, finally taking a good look at Weston. “Mark has all the experience. I’m shockingly new at this.”
“I’m sure Mr. Danner is very good at what he does,” said Weston. “But you cared deeply about my sister. I could tell. And I believe if there has been foul play involved in her death, you will find out. Mr. Danner — Mark — has assured me he is required to closely supervise your work,” Weston continued. “I’m counting on you to find out the truth.”
“So how does Will Keating fit into this?” I asked. After all, Will was the one who had connected the final dot for me, handing over Weston’s whereabouts on a silver platter.
“I called the Chief Medical Examiner’s office to relay my request for an autopsy. Dr. Keating is one of the pathologists they have on call. I insisted on meeting and interviewing Will, and he answered all of my questions to my satisfaction.”
Oh, the things money can get you. I wondered if Weston had offered to pony up the funds for the rest of those pesky building and lab renovations. I imagined the Chief M.E. lovingly stroking a new, handcrafted African Blackwood desk and fondling upgraded top-of-the-line microscopes and spectrometers and chromatographs and MRI equipment.
Weston continued, “I told Dr. Keating I’d procured the services of Omega Investigations and that you, Blainey, were to have full access to all information and any findings. He’s got the paperwork, it’s all in order.”
“So Dr. Keating was already expecting me to come by and speak with him.” I made a mental note to slug Will the next time I saw him.
Weston nodded. “Yes. I’d hoped Mark would have had time to be in touch with you and explain these new circumstances before you found us, but…” Weston stopped and offered a sideways smile. “I believe the word Mr. Danner used when referring to you was ‘tenacious.’”
I thought that was a nice step up from ‘stubborn little cuss.’
I thought of my phone call with Chad, the one that had ended with a small explosion in my ear when he’d slammed down the receiver.
“Have either of you, by any chance, spoken with Detective Chad Miller at the Brady Police Department about Omega’s involvement?”
“No,” Weston said. “The M.E. directed us to the county sheriff’s office. He told us they’d have jurisdiction over any criminal investigation outside Brady city limits.”
“Okay,” I said. Still, I was convinced Chad had heard the news somehow. Then I remembered the big lug of a security guard at WindDancer, the one who’d almost had to throw me out. A lot of private security jobs were done by moonlighting cops, and law enforcement communities are notoriously small anyway. Chad definitely knew, I’d put money on that.
Mark looked at me, then at Weston. “Okay,” he said. “Well, I guess I’ll head out then. Blainey, give me a call later? Weston, we appreciate you putting your trust in us. She won’t let you down.”
“Weston, could you excuse us for a moment?” I didn’t wait around for an answer. I grabbed Mark by one arm and pushed him toward the door.
Out in the hall, I tried to keep my voice down. “Are you insane?”
“You do realize he could be using us, right? Using me?”
“I do realize that, but I don’t think it’s likely.”
“Think about it. He wouldn’t have asked for you if he’s involved in his sister’s death. He already knows you’ll crawl up anybody’s tailpipe to get the truth.”
“He might want to stay close to the investigation, keep tabs,” I said.
“Blainey, without Weston there wouldn’t be an investigation. Without Weston calling the M.E. there’d be no autopsy. Rachel’s body would probably already be on the way to being embalmed or cremated.”
He had a point there.
“Mark, please tell me you’re not swayed by all his money. Please tell me you’re thinking straight.”
“I’m not swayed by all his money. I’m thinking straight.”
“Just out of curiosity, how much is he paying you?”
“You mean paying us? The going rate,” said Mark, then stammering out “and incidentals.”
That seemed a bit manipulative, dangling Weston’s money in front of me. “I still think he could be the father of Rachel’s daughter,” I said.
Mark shrugged. “Ask him to do a DNA test with Dr. Keating,” he said. “To keep on file.”
“He doesn’t even believe her story,” I said. “He called it ‘one of her fantasies.’”
“He knows it’s true,” Mark said. “He admitted as much to me.”
“Then why the fuck was he gaslighting his sister? That’s just cruel.” My voice was rising, and Mark put a finger to his lips.
“Anyway, DNA only matters if we find Rachel’s kid and if she agrees to give a sample. That’s a lot of ifs,” I said.
“But if he refuses, you likely have your answer, yeah?”
“Probably true,” I said.
“But I’m betting you’ll find her,” Mark said with a smile. “Anyway, you’d better get back in there and get started. And call me later?”
“Okay, whatever,” I said, still a bit miffed, and knocked again on the door to Room 518. As I walked in, I heard Mark’s footsteps scuffing away down the carpeted hall.
Weston and I looked at each other for a moment as an uncomfortable silence welled up. I was on my own, and it was freaking me out more than a little. My brain kept wanting to return to Weston as The Bad Guy in the story, which was now unlikely, since he’d demanded an autopsy and hired us. Hired me, even though I hadn’t hidden my distaste or mistrust of him.
He cleared his throat and said, “You must be wondering…” but I cut him off with a wave of one hand.
“Do you mind if we sit?” I asked.
“Of course, I apologize, please.”
I sat on the edge of one of the beds, and he perched on the corner of the other. It rattled me to see him nervous, like an anxious schoolboy having to explain a complicated problem he hadn’t studied for and didn’t fully understand. His broad shoulders slumped, as if he was folding inward, and his face was pale and drawn. Then I remembered. His sister had died. His sister who he loved. And then I remembered the other thing: his sister, whose child he might have fathered.
Something about him still bothered me. Maybe it was that visceral reaction I always have when I come into contact with very rich people who are used to throwing dollars at their problems and seeing them melt into vapor. I leaned forward with my elbows on my knees, peering into his face. I was going to have to figure out a way to work with him, or not take the job. Those were my clear options.
I decided to just go for it. “First of all,” I said, “if someone killed your sister, I give you my word, we’ll find out who and why. Second, I made a promise to Rachel to look for her daughter. I intend to keep that promise. Do you object?”
He shook his head. “No,” he said.
“Finally, would you be willing to let Dr. Keating take a sample of your DNA to keep on file in the event we do find her? I’d want to rule you out as the father.”
His gray-blue eyes widened and his face flushed, and he choked on a response that seemed to want out real bad. Then he took a deep breath and answered. “Ms. Blair, I loved my sister very much. We went through a lot together. Life had certainly wounded her, and I did what I could to protect her. But I assure you, there was nothing untoward about our relationship. I’m hoping you can come to trust me, but if submitting to a DNA test will satisfy your apparent suspicions, I have no objection whatsoever.”
“Good,” I said. “I’ll set it up.”
He nodded, his eyes suddenly glistening. I shoved down the pastoral urge to reach out and pat his arm and instead dug around in my bag for my notebook and a pen.
“Start at the beginning,” I said. “Tell me everything.”